Posts Tagged ‘history’
When lightning strikes and irrevocably damages the cathedral in a medieval French town, the church and citizens embark on the century long project of building a new, modern, gothic cathedral.
David Macauley’s classic has been updated with more accurate information and new color sketches. I have to admit that I miss the black and white illustrations, but it’s also true that that’s mostly nostalgia talking. Macauley’s art is as detailed and absorbing as ever, and together with the story he weaves, the pages bring to life a people and time long past.
Tony Sarg always loved puppets, even when he was a small boy. When he grew up and moved to New York City, he made his living creating them for plays, musicals, and even store windows. Then in 1924 Macy’s department store was so impressed with the window displays Sarg made that they asked him to help put on a holiday parade. But Tony Sarg knew that for his marionettes to be seen by huge crowds standing on sidewalks, he would need to come up with something new, something BIG.
I’malways full of love for well written and illustrated non-fiction picture books, but this one is particularly wonderful. Much has been made of the illustrations, and rightfully so. Sweet’s use of mixed media is not only beautiful and appropriate to the topic, each style is put to the best use for illuminating different aspects of the story. The text remains clear and understandable, but doesn’t shy away from evocative phrases like “They shimmied and swayed through the canyons of New York City” or unfamiliar words, such as “articulate.” The scope of the book is perfect as well, it includes enough about Sarg’s childhood to help kids relate, but remains focused enough on a specific achievement to keep readers engaged.
Five Silly Turkeys by Salina Yoon
Babies and toddlers are sure to love the shiny, crinkly feathers that stick out from each page, but there’s nothing particularly remarkable about the rhymes or illustrations inside.
Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving by Kimberly and James Dean
Like a lot of cheap paperback spin-offs of popular picture book series, the quality of this title doesn’t quite match the original books. While the illustrator is the same, the authors are not, and it shows. It’s also a fairly typical holiday book, and repeats all of the same myths about Thanksgiving.
Laurie Halse Anderson is best known for her award-winning young adult and middle grade novels, particularly Speak, Wintergirls, Fever 1793, and Chains. She is also the author of a rather interesting non-fiction picture book (illustrated by Matt Faulkner) about Sarah Hale, a 19th century American woman who transformed Thanksgiving from a regional holiday into a national one.*
Now, I haven’t had a chance to read this new picture book (the local bookstores sent their copies back after the holidays) so what I am about to say is informed solely by the covers as well as the fact that Hale, as I understand it, is hardly a well-known person to be writing about,** but…WOW. If that cover is any indication of what is inside, I’m perplexed to say the least. A bit annoyed and insulted too.
Anderson and Faulkner’s Thank You, Sarah frames Hale as a woman who engages in intellectual pursuits and commands respect. The title casts Sarah as a hero and invites us to thank her for what she has done. The patriotic symbols that surround her are everyday ones that Hale, as an American citizen (albeit a non-voting one) could claim as her own and her due.
The Amelia Bloomer honored title, according to its cover, focuses on Hale’s experience with the domestic pursuit of cooking and frames her actions as being grateful and offering domestic niceties to others. The patriotic building in the background is one that symbolizes power held, in Hale’s time, only by men. It is possible that the intent was to create a type of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” vibe, but the combination of target audience, title, and pumpkin pie does quite the opposite.
As if all that wasn’t enough, Thank You, Sarah was never honored by the Amelia Bloomer Project despite (as far as I can tell) being eligible for it.
Weird stuff happens, praise-worthy does not mean perfect, books aren’t always like their covers (although picture books certainly ought to be), it is (in very specific circumstances sometimes) possible to praise men for work that women have also done and not undermine feminist goals, it is very possible to praise women for traditionally feminine tasks and not undermine feminist goals, the apparently derivative nature of the second work may merely be a matter of coincidence and the subject matter, and I’m quite certain this was not at all a deliberate insult to Anderson by the Amelia Bloomer Project.
Still, I am totally giving the Amelia Bloomer Project the side-eye right now. Also Allegra, Gardener, and Albert Whitman & Co.
*Hale was a rather fascinating person and not without flaws. Raised by parents who believed in education for women as well as men, Hale went on to write and edit for major US publications. She was critical of slavery but supported sending freed slaves to Liberia. Also, she popularized a holiday that celebrates genocide. So.
**I’m hardly going to argue that Hale is worth only one picture book. I just find a second book about her within the span of a decade an interesting choice considering both how well known the first author is and how many other wonderful women don’t have any picture books about them at all.
If there is one thing that is lacking among books for younger children, it’s good, quality, readable non-fiction. (Aside from more diversity. But that is sadly a given for all kinds of literature.) Especially books that have modern and understandable graphics. There’s plenty of non-fiction, and there are plenty of readable titles. There just aren’t many titles that do both – and most of those that do are decades old and show it.
Which is why I was so excited to stumble across the series I’m writing about today. A loose collection of books about nature and people, National Geographic’s Picture the Seasons presents factual information about trees, spring, pilgrims and much more. It does so at a level that is sparse and simple enough to be understandable to younger children, yet manages to never be stilted and disconnected, as non-fiction for early learners often are.
Not only are the photographs frequently stunning and the information up-to-date and accurate, the text flows well enough that I can read it aloud during story times. “Spring welcomes new arrivals” and is a time of the year when “warm breezes make tulips take a bow.” During winter, “open spaces sparkle in the sun and glitter purple-blue under the stars.” And pumpkins don’t just come in many sizes, there are “wee ones, inches wide, or GIANT ones you can sit inside.”
The words and pictures expertly complement each other as well, which means I don’t always have to stop and and try to explain unfamiliar ideas using a lot of equally confusing terms – I can just point out the image that illustrates the concept. It also allows for more descriptive and imaginative language. Four year olds that might not otherwise understand what it means for spring to “drag a grey blanket across the sky” can see for themselves that the darkening clouds above a hillside do indeed look like a grey blanket.
There are a few mis-steps, such as when the book on apples decides that Johnny Appleseed warrants a mention, but overall the series is solid and enjoyable – and I wish there were more non-fiction books for younger children like them.
Bernard, Robin. (1999). A Tree for All Seasons. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.
Esbaum, Jill. (2009). Apples for Everyone. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.
Esbaum, Jill. (2009). Seed, Sprout, Pumpkin, Pie. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.
Esbaum, Jill. (2010). Winter Wonderland. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.
Esbaum, Jill. (2010). Everything Spring. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.
Esbaum, Jill. (2012). Cherry Blossoms Say Spring. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.
Goodman, Susan E. (1999). Pilgrims for Plymouth. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.
Best for Ages: 3 to 7